Internet Archive

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The online treasure-trove of free film

As the fight against illegal downloads goes on, it’s worth knowing that an increasing number of films, music and books have fallen legally into the public domain and are now free for everyone. You’re able to access these files via The Internet Archive (www.archive.org) and it’s fast becoming one of the most interesting sites on the Internet.

Along with around 1.6million PDF books, there’s a digital archive containing tens of thousands of culturally important films and video clips, many of which are fantastic snapshots of society at the time they were created. These films often have a “Hi, I’m Troy McClure…” quality to them, but they are the actual movies that The Simpsons has been spoofing for years. Browse through and you see why Matt Groening hit on such a rich vein of comedic social commentary with this sort of material.

Among the archives are old U.S. Office of War Information propaganda films, including Our Enemy: The Japanese.

This particular title informs the American public about the “primitive, murderous and fanatical” enemy the country is currently facing. Some would argue that while the delivery has become slightly more subtle, all that has really changed in the intervening decades is the enemy and the medium — so now we get the same thing being disseminated by the likes of Fox News.

Likewise, hysterical anti-drug films from the 1950s seem hilariously dated, with deadpan delivery of lines such as “They both smoked pot — that’s jive talk for marijuana” alongside claims that “Reds” are promoting dope trafficking in the U.S. to undermine national morale. The same films are made today with updated language and austere warnings about the links between drug cartels and international terrorism. Once again, the medium has been updated, but the message remains constant.

Other clips are wonderfully passé, including How to Use the Dial Phone from 1927 in which the viewer is guided through the process of using the new fangled telephone system. Also present is Duck and Cover, the famous 1951 Civil Defence film for children in which Bert the Turtle shows what to do in case of atomic attack. It includes useful advice such as “an atomic explosion can knock you down”. Yes, yes it can, Bert.

Fans of Mad Men might like to see some of the actual adverts from that era. The tobacco ads are especially noteworthy, with Virginia Slims piggybacking the women’s liberation movement (“You’ve come a long way, baby. You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby.”) as well as a somewhat disturbing advert featuring The Flintstones shilling for Winston cigarettes. Aside from the historical element, the site has an animation section (including old Bugs Bunny, Popeye and Superman cartoons) and reams of feature-length movies, many of which are impossible to find elsewhere.

There are over 2,500 films available, which you can stream, download or, in some cases, burn to DVD and watch on television via a player. Here are a few we’d recommend:

THE 39 STEPS (1935)
Classic British spy thriller, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and loosely based on the novel by John Buchan.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)
Film adaptation of the novel I Am Legend and starring Vincent Price. It was later remade as The Omega Man in 1971 and as I Am Legend in 2007 with Will Smith.

THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES (2003)
The three-part BBC documentary from 2003, charting the parallel rise of neo-conservative and fanatical Islam. One of the best documentaries ever made.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell bicker brilliantly in Howard Hawks’ classic screwball comedy. There’s also a version to be downloaded to iPod/iPad.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
George A. Romero’s original zombie film. Hugely influential on the horror genre and still one of the greatest horrors of all time.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949)
Excellent farce from the Ealing Studios about the titular London district that declares independence from the rest of the world.

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1958)
Ed Wood’s disastrous film is often cited as one of the worst ever made, and has become cult viewing for that reason. And yes, it’s terrible.

THE CORPORATION (2003)
Documentary about the rise of the corporation and how they have become an institution that creates great wealth, but causes enormous often hidden harms to society.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)
This is the fi rst outing of the movie horror-comedy about a carnivorous plant and notable for appearance by a young Jack Nicholson.

For Esquire magazine, December 2010

For original PDF click here – Internet Archive

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